Read the Room – Non-Binary Writers on The Future of Science-Fiction. Part 2: Gender and Genre

Hi! Welcome back to part 2 of Read the Room: Non-Binary Writers on the Future of Science Fiction.

If you come from part 1 be very welcome. If you have not read part 1 yet then gtf outta here and go read it now!

Ok, ok, jk. In truth, though leading up to one another, all parts can theoretically be read out of order, a pretty neat trick for those who like to break the rules. Feel a little rebellious for a second. A momentary “fuck you, maths”.

Read the Room is a blog feature focusing on conversations with authors shaping the future of genre, today. A multi-author interview in the style of a chatroom, Read the Room aims to set the stage for some of the most promising, exciting voices currently molding literary genres into the amazing, bright, out-of-the-box stories we know and love to read.

For SciFi Month, we are celebrating non-binary writers who are exploring the worlds of science fiction through their own unique lens!

Read the Room banner

As mentioned in the first post, this multi-author interview is split into 4 parts (for both aesthetic purposes and to pace your reading experience), which are:

Part 1: Inspiration and Creation

Part 2: Gender and Genre* YOU ARE HERE

Part 3: Past, Present, Exploration

and lastly,

Part 4: Craft and Future

Stick around until the end to hear more from the present of the genre and the possibilities of its future. Without further ado, let’s get to it.

Ok, one thing ado: I really recommend you read this on a larger screen (tablet or laptop), as the layout might read stranger on phone (columns, right?…you know what I’m talking about…).


What does being non-binary mean to you?

Blogger’s pop-up: Warning for a slang word ahead that has been used as a derogatory term for queer people. The writer’s intent is far from it, merely to exemplify a point, but it is there.

JS: For me, being nonbinary is a natural extension of being intersex. I am neither male nor female, but a combination and rearrangement of the two. In the same way my gender is neither woman nor man, but like someone took a random selection of stereotypes, shook them up like a cocktail, and poured a glass of me.

Being nonbinary is freeing, it’s a way to shuck gender norms and live who you are, without labels like ‘tomboy’ or ‘sissy’.

J S Fields author photo

Joseph Tomaras author photo

JT: I spent 30 years trying to be a man and having doubts–I am dating this back to my Bar Mitzvah, because I’m Jewish. But I did not see myself as essentially a woman either, and in relation to the cultural scripts for transgender identities that were readily available as I came of age, in the 1990s, that seemed to dictate that I “wasn’t trans”. So making a go of being a man seemed like the least bad option. But the pretense was grinding away at my sense of self, my ability to even keep in touch with reality.

I have been aware of nonbinary genders for some time, but to own that for myself required that I have some kind of certainty. My approach to life tends not to be experimental, but deliberate. I know and then I do, rather than doing in order to find out.

It took longer for genderfluid, as a mode of identity, to come to my awareness, and then even longer for me to have a long enough span to meditate upon it in order to attain that certainty. But once I did, I’ve resolved to be quite public about it.


EB: Nonbinary is really an expression of the otherness I have felt my whole life. Most of my life there was a lot of pressure to conform to “good christian girl”. I really just felt like an amorphous blob that was getting smashed and squished into a mold I didn’t choose. Growing up isolated from the queer community, I didn’t know there was more than two options. Both options didn’t work for me, but at least girl was easier to fake even if I was just a blob like a dead jellyfish on the beach. It wasn’t until undergrad, I encountered nonbinary which took awhile to click.

I still feel like a blob, but at least now I’m not getting smushed as much because gender is a costume that I can take on and off.

Erin Barbeau author photo

Matt Doyle author photo

MD: Initially, it meant a lot of confusion. I’m 36, and we didn’t have the term genderfluid when I was a teen. So, when my identity fluctuated, I was so confused. Especially because the closest we got in the media at the time rarely covered the topic.

Most of what I saw was TV making it clear that if you’re biologically male and you wear women’s clothes, you’re homosexual and want to be the ‘woman’ in the relationship. Given my own confusion around my orientation at the time too, it all got a bit mixed up. Now, it’s something much more positive.

I was never a typical male. I did some masculine things – or rather things that were viewed as masculine at the time – but I was also drawn to doing things that were seen as more feminine. Now that I’m older, being genderfluid is a big part of what makes me so comfortable with myself.

I know who I am now, and that’s a wonderful thing.


ESA: I love Erin’s description here. I wasn’t exposed to the queer community until high school and that was still pretty heavily focused on cis folks. The first time I started questioning my own gender was in college, when I organized our school’s first drag show. I spent days developing me masculine persona and it felt so good when I finally slipped him on. But at the same time, there are aspects of the societally-enforced masculinity that don’t appeal to me, either.

For me, a lot of gender is performative and presentation-based–and my ideal presentation has always been androgynous. For most of my life I kind of swung between “girly girl” and “tomboy,” but I’ve recently come to feel comfortable at both ends of that and in the middle. I like to think of it as schrodinger’s gender sometimes: both there and not; in and out of the binary at the same time.

Being enby is one of those things that I struggle to describe, but I know that it’s right for me.

E S Argentum author photo

Alex White author photo

AW: I feel no particular attachment to my masculinity. It fits me terribly, and being non-binary means I’m free to make my own path. I have always been drawn to so-called feminine things–dresses, makeup, etc.–but I wasn’t able to properly articulate that framework as an ignorant child.

I was in my 30s when a friend explained queerness to me, and a lifetime of pretending came roaring back.


JV: I love all your descriptions, because they are different and yet, I guess they speak to everyone of us. I spent decades trying to fit into binary drawers: “A lifetime of pretending came roaring back” describes it very aptly, Alex.

When I was a kid, there was no possible way for me to understand myself. I’m married to a man and we have three kids, I’m “read” as female and I’m not totally uncomfortable with that. It’s okay, I think of myself as “politically female”. There are all the struggles of being a female SF writer, of being an outspoken female feminist. When I first discovered that non-binary fits my understanding (or, more precisely: not-at-all-understanding) of gender, I thought that it was possible for me to be non-binary in an, I guess, private way – politically female, privately non-binary.

But few things are more political than being queer in any way, so I was quickly aware that my feminist struggles and my understanding of being political are pretty much tight to my genderqueerness as well.

There is a constant struggle in Germany for non-binary visibility (for example on Wikipedia), for gender-inclusive language, for neo-pronouns (German only knows binary pronouns)…

Still, I sometimes feel like an imposter, which also is an experience that a lot of non-binary friends share, I guess.  

Judith Vogt author photo

Kiya Nicoll author photo

KN:  Ooh, put me in the “expression of otherness” bag too.  Though I’m still entirely vague on how much of that sense of otherness is a matter of gender and how much is a matter of neurodivergence (and have a lot of sympathy for the other autistic folks who coined “autigender” for what I’m guessing is something like this experience). 

I’ve had people make comments to me over the years that I was “butch” or “carry a lot of male energy” and I’ve never been quite sure what they mean, even when it tickled me to have them see that in me. 

Years ago I saw a Ru Paul quote, “We’re born naked and the rest is drag,” and I’ve sort of cherished that thought, even as there have been times when putting on one gender or another or the experience of being seen incorrectly have caused me pain.


AE:  For me, being non-binary is feeling comfortable in who I am. Ever since I was little I wasn’t really a girl. My mom would show a pair of pink glittery shoes to me and I would go “No, those are for girls”, because I didn’t see myself as a girl. But when I was asked if I’d rather be a boy, the answer was no. So I guess I’ve always known, but never had a name for it. When I did find a name for that feeling, it immediately felt right.

Being non-binary to me is just to be. It feels like being sort of detached from gender. Because I don’t really see myself as any gender in particular.

I’m just me and I don’t want a female or male label. And while non-binary itself is a label, to me it feels more like neutral ground. It feels less heavy, if that makes sense.

Anna Everts author photo

K B Wagers author photo

KW:  I was 42 before I realized that all my life I’d been trying to perform being a girl and that I didn’t have to anymore. And that sense of relief was so overwhelming I sometimes wish I’d had the terminology so much earlier in my life, but what can you do? *laughs* Besides give away all those dresses and heels you wore and were miserable in most of your life! I still struggle on a daily basis with body dysmorphia, like everything else it’s a work in progress.

Like all the others have said this “expression of otherness” has been with me all my life and it’s comforting to know there’s a community of us for support and guidance and comfort. 


DD: I feel a lot of connection to everyone else’s answers here. And I think, in some ways, many of our experiences speak to one another.

Gender has always felt very elusive to me, like a question that I didn’t quite have the answer to, or as if everyone else was born with this manual that just told them how they were supposed to behave and feel, but I’d somehow missed the memo. Even after coming out as, initially, a trans man, something didn’t quite feel right, and it took me years to really come to terms with and understand myself enough to say I was non-binary.

In fact, it was Juno Steel from The Penumbra Podcast, which my brother recommended to me, that really helped me come to terms with it, in the end.

It feels like coming home, honestly. Like a place where I belong and can be myself among people with similar experiences and feelings as me.

Dominik Myles Dyer author photo

J Patrick Jones author photo

JJ: I’m having trouble coming up with an answer for this. I’d like to say something poetic, like it’s a rock of identity I can climb onto in a sea of uncertainty, but honestly that’s far too dramatic. If anything, I identify more as agender than specifically nonbinary, but I guess anything other than Man or Woman is nonbinary by definition… I’m writing myself in circles.

It’s an escalator that takes me away from Gender and all the expected performances of it.


Touching on exploration, what are some of the ways gender plays into your work, if it does?

K B Wagers author photo

KW:  I started writing the Hail Bristol novels before I really figured out what was going on, so she’s a cis bisexual woman, but the world she lives in treats gender as a natural spectrum so I was able to put a lot of secondary characters in who just exist as they are, no questions asked.

My new series was my first opportunity to have even more rep in a near-future Earth where people’s pronouns are a part of a digital handshake that pops up when folx first meet and the book coming out in the summer “Hold Fast Through the Fire” was my first opportunity to write a non-binary main character. Getting to create a character who lives in a world where they truly get to decide their own gender path from birth was amazing. Though it was an interesting exercise in how far I still have to go untangling the binary “default” that was expected when I was growing up.  

K B Wagers (they/them) is the author of the Indranan & Farian War trilogies with Orbit Books and the new NeoG novels from Harper Voyager.

They hold a bachelor’s degree in Russian Studies and a second-degree black belt in Shaolin Kung Fu. A native of Colorado, K.B. lives at the base of the Rocky Mountains with their partner and a crew of recalcitrant cats. In between books, they can be found attempting to learn Spanish, dying in video games, dancing to music, and scribbling new ideas in their bullet journal. They are represented by Andrew Zack of The Zack Company.


MD: That has varied. In The Fox, The Dog, and The King, the second book in my lesfic sci-fi/mystery series, The Cassie Tam Files, Cassie’s client is nonbinary. They don’t feature heavily, but it was a way to put some person rep in there.

More personal was Dear Sis, a short story I wrote for a furry anthology called Roar 9. That was almost autobiographical in nature, and easily the most personal thing I’ve written. I’ve had a few people reach out to me after that story to thank me for it too, which was really nice. Those two made me more comfortable with writing that side of me in stories, I think.

One of the leads in my next book, Ailuros, is genderfluid too. Mostly, the characters are a way to let out that side of me in fiction, and give the characters the chance to be the stars in the cool sci-fi worlds. We all need a hero like us sometimes.

Matt Doyle author photo

Matt Doyle (he/him/she/her/they/them) is a pansexual/genderfluid speculative fiction author and pop culture blogger from the UK. Matt specializes in fiction with a sci-fi grounding and diverse characters.


Kiya Nicoll author photo

KN: So, both of my published short stories (as of this writing) have trans protagonists.  It’s a bit blink-and-you’ll-miss-it in “Delayed Exchange Deferred”, but it’s a major point in “The Company Store” which came out in October, since that is a story about how an egg cracks. One of the things that I’ve played a lot with writing specifically science fiction is themes of bodily autonomy and modification, which is broader than gender and touches on disability and of course the occasional shoutout to the furries.  I like playing with the idea of technology making it more possible for us to be who we feel we really are, no matter how weird that might be.

Kiya Nicoll (all, but if specific- they/them/thon) is a writer, poet, and artist living in a New England oak grove with a large pile of family and an atypical variety of animals.  Their neurodivergent obsessions include archaeoastronomy, cat fur genetics, the scientific-occult scene of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the mods for Rimworld available on the Steam workshop.

When not wrangling cats and/or children, they write things, including The Traveller’s Guide to the Duat (a humorous version of the Egyptian Book of the Dead) and short stories that have appeared in several anthologies. Their website is kiyanicoll.com and they can be found on Twitter at kiya_nicoll, because naming things is very hard.


EB: Most of my work is either about sapphic and/or nonbinary people since I’m a nonbinary dyke.

I wrote “Blossoming of Callisto” in such a way that on first read, the reader would assume that the narrator was well, a girl, when in truth the narrator has no gender due to being a spaceship. It reflects how I perform femininity. I channel a lot of anger and frustration about living in a cisheteronormative world into my short fiction.

My longform fiction is where I write the characters I wish I had when I was 16 and was tentatively thinking maybe I was trans and shoving it deep down because that was so very silly.

Erin Barbeau author photo

Mock cover for Erin's publisher short: Blossoming of Callisto, a aching, heartfelt story of love, sentient spaceships, and compelling worldbuilding! It depicts a spaceship amid blossoming flowers.
Mock cover

Website

Erin Barbeau (ze/zir) works as an entomologist that specializes in museums and butterflies.  Since zir childhood, ze has been an avid consumer of speculative fiction. Without science fiction and fantasy, ze would not have been able to come to terms with zir queerness. In zir blog, ze is trying to focus on SFF that features queer, people of color, and own voices content/ narratives.

Zir is also an aspiring SFF writer, artist, and dancer.


J Patrick Jones author photo

JJ: I try to subvert gendered tropes wherever possible, often just for the sake of doing so. One of the protagonists of my debut novel Sanctuary, and its sequels, is an openly transgender man, and the love interest for the female protagonist of the Sanctuary trilogy is a transgender woman. My current work-in-progress follows a nonbinary teenager, and the most influential individual in-universe is a nonbinary person who uses ze/zir neopronouns.

When I create a character, the first question I ask myself is “Why should this character be cisgender?”

However, I strongly avoid plots where things happen because of a character’s gender – I feel like that’s just lazy writing, bordering on suffering-porn. I don’t write stories about gender, I just write stories in which the characters frequently happen to be non-cisgender.

J Patrick Jones (they/them) was born in 1994 and resides in Merseyside, in the UK. They identify as agender and prefer they/them pronouns.

They have been writing since early childhood, and other career ideas – archaeologist, pilot, games designer – fell by the wayside over the years, giving way to a career in writing. Sanctuary was self-published in April 2018, and its sequel, Endeavour Part One, followed in January 2019.

Despite being a writer, J. Patrick Jones hates writing about themself in the third person.


ESA:  I write a lot of non-cis characters, from the straight trans couple in my smutty short story “More Than Diamonds” to the nonbinary protagonist in my current WIP. The trans protagonist in my co-written Aces High, Jokers Wild series was also a big way to explore my own gender.

I was questioning and exploring myself at the time my co-author and I were working on the first drafts, and being able to explore the potential of being binary trans through the character of Aidan wound up being both really cathartic and turning into a great story.

E S Argentum author photo

E S Argentum (they/them/he/him) writes LGBTQ+ romance, erotica, and fantasy with sweet, realistic relationships. As an LGBTQ+ person themself, they strive to present a mix of realistic relationships with hot sex between a variety of genders, sexual orientations, and relationship dynamics.


Alex White author photo

AW: There’s always a place for people like me in my novels, as well as other folx across the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. When rendering these characters, I feel like it’s important to recognize how their lifestyles interact with the world and model how the world perceives them. When people write folks who “just happen to be gay,” but make no other references to it, that feels dishonest. Many of my own early works helped me explore my identity and better understand it through careful rumination on themes.

Alex White (they/them) was born in Mississippi and has lived most of their life in the American South. Alex is the author of The Salvagers Trilogy, which begins with A BIG SHIP AT THE EDGE OF THE UNIVERSE; as well as official novels for Alien (THE COLD FORGE, INTO CHARYBDIS) and Star Trek (DS9 REVENANT). They enjoy music composition, calligraphy and challenging, subversive fiction.


AE: My stories always have non-binary characters and/or transgender characters. I also just try and leave behind all the gender stereotypes, unless a character is meant to be a stereotype. I like to show people that gender is a very fluid thing. Representation matters, so I definitely try and create more of that. We need many more non-binary and transgender characters in writing.

Anna Everts author photo

Anna Everts (they/them/die/diens) is a non-binary and autistic comic writer from the Netherlands. Their goal is to make sure everyone gets the representation they deserve, while also creating kick-ass stories. Twitter/Instagram: @peculiarplanets


Joseph Tomaras author photo

JT: So many ways, in retrospect. One of my stories which was published before I came out, “The Joy of Sects,” could be retitled “Portrait of the Artist as an Egg in Need of Cracking.” I once referred, on my blog, to the narrator, Lydia, as “my most beloved of Mary Sues.” I would now read Lydia as a transfeminine nonbinary person who utilizes gender fluidity in a tactical manner, in part because she prioritizes other values over assertion of her identity.

What does it mean for someone who, to all public appearances, was male to refer to such a character, even half-jokingly, as a “Mary Sue”? Denial is a powerful river, which carves deep grooves into our psychic landscapes. There are other stories into which it factors, but in more oblique ways.

Joseph Tomaras (they/them -preferred-, or he/him) now lives in the Hudson Valley region of New York State. Their stories have appeared most recently in Lackington’sSalvage QuarterlyFantasy & Science Fiction, and the late lamented FLAPPERHOUSE.

When not serving as tech support for remote-schooling children or seeking paid employment, they write strange prose poems and work on translations of stories by the Yiddish author Der Nister.

Random mental emissions can be found on Twitter (@epateur), while somewhat more thoughtful contributions can be found on their blog at http://skinseller.blogspot.com/.


JV: I love playing with language. German is a very binary language (almost every noun that refers to a person – like professions and so on – is gendered). I love to show that it’s possible to write gender-neutrally in German – and I love to show that indeed it adds to more awareness and visibility of all genders.

The post-apocalyptic hopepunk novel “Wasteland” that I wrote with my husband is the first German novel that avoids the usual generically male plural grammar form (the generically male plural is currently discussed a lot and very hotly everywhere in German journalism and media).

The decision to write a novel without it arose from the setting of the novel itself: It takes place in a queer anarchist-utopian community within a Mad Max dystopia. And once you start, it’s hard not to incorporate gender and genderqueerness into your work!

Our RPG setting “Aces in Space” (one of the few works that’s available in English as well) and the accompanying novel “Ace in Space” deals A LOT with living in a post-binary and post-heteronormative society.

Our next book, “Anarchie Déco” is an urban fantasy novel in 1920s’ Berlin and it’s the first time we wrote a non-binary protagonist. 1920s’

Berlin challenged gender drastically and it’s been as exciting as it’s been sad to learn about that and about all the promises and possibilities it held until the knowledge about and perspectives on gender were literally eradicated by the Nazis.

Judith Vogt author photo

Joseph Tomaras author photo

JT: Just want to chime in that, as someone who has studied, read, and translated German fiction, I am intrigued by Judith’s description of their German-language fiction, and would love to read some. Send me some links!!!

Judith Vogt (she/her/they/them) is a German science fiction and fantasy author, currently living in Aachen. Besides novels and short stories, she writes essays (for example for the German TOR website and the science fiction annual “SF Jahr“), tabletop role-playing games, she translates, works as an editor and hosts the first podcast in German language on feminism and RPG (Genderswapped Podcast).

Together with two friends, she publishes a quarterly queer-feminist SFF short story magazine called “Queer*Welten” (queer*worlds). Together with her partner, she won several SFF and RPG awards and publishes monthly short stories and mini RPGs on Patreon (www.patreon.com/dievoegte).

She also published the first German-language essay collection on diversity and representation in role-playing games and does workshops and panels on representation, intersectionality, inclusive worldbuilding and much more.

The only works available in English are two of her RPGs, “Shardland” and “Aces in Space“. Some of her recent SF works in German are “Roma Nova“, “Wasteland” and “Ace in Space“.


DD: I wrote a few short stories about my relationship with gender before I really came to terms with the reality of being non-binary, but now they feel a little discordant because there’s something missing. I’m working on a short story now that is one of my first works of prose with a non-binary protagonist and feels like an honest exploration of gender.

When it comes to my podcasts, the majority of my protagonists now are some flavour of non-binary, and I’ve had a couple of people reach out and say that they’d had realisations because of the excerpts of scripts I’d sent them while working on it, which is honestly one of the highest compliments I think I could receive.

I love challenging people’s perceptions with my explorations of gender and, like Anna said, representation matters. I think they really did hit the nail on the head with that one.

Creating narratives that have people like me in is something so important to me because it feels like, if I can see myself in them, someone else might be able to as well.

Dominik Myles Dyer author photo

Dominik Myles Dyer (he/him) is a writer, content creator, and film student at manchester college. He firmly believes in building positive, intersectional representation in all forms of media. He primarily writes horror in both prose and audio formats and loves using fiction as a tool for discovery and exploration.

Dominik posts some of his short stories up on his ko-fi, where they’re up for sale. Any donations are welcomed.


J S Fields author photo

JS: There are nonbinary characters in all my work. Originally it was a way to explore how various nonbinary experiences might be expressed as I worked to define my own identity. But I think more important than that, I write space science fiction. To me it seems ridiculous to have aliens always along a gender binary. On Earth that isn’t even the case. If some species of fungi can have thousands of sexes, what are we doing with blue-skinned aliens in the standard two options? Science fiction allows us to confront societal biases in a ‘safer’ space and really challenge readers. 

J.S. Fields (they/them/theirs) is a scientist who has perhaps spent too much time around organic solvents. They enjoy roller derby, woodturning, making chainmail by hand, and cultivating fungi in the backs of minivans. Nonbinary, and yes, it matters.

Fields has lived in Thailand, Ireland, Canada, USA, and spent extensive time in many more places. Their current research takes them to the Peruvian Amazon rainforest each summer, where they traumatizes students with machetes and tangarana ants while looking for rare pigmenting fungi. They live with their partner and child, and a very fabulous lionhead rabbit named Merlin.


And what are some ways gender can play into science fiction as a whole?

J S Fields author photo

JS: Putting nonbinary characters into our work helps SF more accurately mimic the natural diversity of the world. And I think that’s why SF challenges readers more so than any other type of fiction. It has so much reality to it, but allows us to push that reality into a form that is digestible by lay audiences.


JJ: Science-fiction, particularly set in the future, is a brilliant opportunity to explore a more understanding and tolerant society, where an individual’s gender has no bearing on their ability to be involved in a plot. I like to consider it aspirational; we should aspire to explore the galaxy, and we should aspire to be less intolerant.

J Patrick Jones author photo

Alex White author photo

AW: I mean, SFF is all about reimagining the world through different lenses. I think there’s a huge power in seeing characters like you in stories you love–and as SFF drifts to include more queer and marginalized voices, that power should go to more people. Sci fi helped me understand my gender identity early on, and gave me proto-frameworks that made me feel less alone.


AE:  I feel like a lot of times gender in science fiction is based on how we deal with gender in the real world: rigid. People struggle to let go of the gender binary and gender stereotypes. But non-binary people exist, and stereotypes are being broken. So why can’t science fiction do the same, if not more?

If you for example write an alternate reality, who says that men, women and everyone in between has to be the same as here in this reality?

Just like many others here mentioned, sci-fi used to be dominated by cis men. Now that that is changing, you see that it is that group that is resisting the fluidity of gender in sci-fi works. These people prefer to see gender the way they know it, which kind of defeats the purpose of sci-fi in my opinion.

Sci-fi is a place where you can explore things that also exist in the real world. Because that’s another thing: being non-binary shouldn’t become a “fictional” thing. We exist. Science fiction just gives an opportunity to explore gender more freely, in my opinion.

Anna Everts author photo

Joseph Tomaras author photo

JT: I need to read more exhaustively before I comment on this fully, because right now most of what I could say about it would consist of footnotes on Delany’s novel Trouble on Triton. So for now let me go oblique.

Nonbinary gender identities are a social reality now. They have been a social reality for as long as there have been human beings, but so repressed in the dominant cultures of the West that up until recently it might have been understandable for a writer to neglect them. No more.

If nonbinary and trans characters are totally absent from your imagined futures, or if your understanding of the technology of gender is fifty years out of date, then your work is as dubious as any all-white science fiction. It amounts to fantasies of the aftermath of a genocide. That is not science fiction; it is Nazi fantasy. And Nazi writing is bad writing, not only morally, but aesthetically as well.

Even more broadly: Gender is the attentional frame through which any experience at all can be said to be lived. The novel, and to some extent, short stories as well, are forms of writing which treat lived experience as their medium. So if you are writing science fiction, or fiction in any other genre, you are writing about gender whether you intend to or not.

How interesting I find your writing is going to vary depending upon how much thought you have put into it, so if you have not thought about how gender conditions your characters’ and narrators’ thoughts and actions, it’s most likely that I will find your writing trite. The gauntlet is down.

Blogger’s pop-up: Have you just redefined “drop the mic”?? I’m on board.


EB: I feel like there’s two layers to gender and science fiction.

The first is about how patriarchal and cisnormative structures in society shape who is being published in the genre and who controls what is being published. How many female science fiction writers can you name from prior to 1970? How many trans science fiction writers can you name from prior to 2010?

There have always been writers of marginalized gender in speculative fiction, but their voices were not amplified to the same extent as their male peers. They often had to fight tooth and nail to get their stories heard and to be taken seriously because of sexism, racism, and bigotry.

Major editors of North American SFF, the people who chose what to publish, were predominantly male during from the pulp to the new wave era of science fiction, a period of almost half a century!

Things are changing for the better as society becomes more accepting and there is more pushback against gatekeeping. We are currently in a renaissance for queer science fiction because more doors are unlocking as editors and major publishers see that there is demand for stories by and about marginalized people.

But it’s not that there is just a demand, it’s also that these stories are successful critically. Just look at the past few years worth ballots of the major genre awards. 

The other layer to this is that gender has always been something explored through speculative fiction because gender is something so embedded in society.

Science fiction is a reflection of current society, not just predictions for the future. It presents this safe, nonthreatening space to explore ideas about gender because to many readers, science fiction is detached from reality no matter how much it may be rooted into reality because of the fantastical elements.

There’s this misconception that gender wasn’t something that was big in SFF until the publication of Ursula Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness in 1969.

Feminist literature from the turn of the century utilitized classic science fiction tropes such as single gender world to show what women’s rights could look like.

Venus Plus X by Theodore Sturgeon predates Left Hand of Darkness by ten years and is undeniably about gender shaped by the anxieties of the 1950s.

Gender is just really an integral to the narratives of the genre whether it be about gender roles or trans experiences.

Erin Barbeau author photo

Kiya Nicoll author photo

KN: I  mean, we can go back to Frankenstein to see people wrangling with the way gender interplays with science fiction, and Mary Shelley did a handful of different things there even aside from being one of the modern inventors of the genre!


JV: I think that the time when science fiction was dominated by white cis men is over. They can still take part in it, of course, but the future of science fiction lies with queer folks, Black and Indigenous writers and writers of color, female, trans and genderqueer authors, and disabled and neurodivergent authors. The white male cis perspective has been over-stretched for far too long.

In retrospection, it’s ridiculous to see how rigidly gender roles, gender performance, gender binary have been painted in the science fiction of the past decades. When folks tell you that all stories have already been told, I can assure you that this is only true for a particular kind of story.  

Judith Vogt author photo

Dominik Myles Dyer author photo

DD:  I definitely agree with this! It’s as if people have higher standards for marginalised creators, where they feel as though everything they create has to be one hundred per-cent original and completely without flaws. There’s nothing wrong with using tropes in your stories because they’re going to be different to someone else’s work simply because you have your own, unique perspective


KW:  Everyone’s got great answers and said pretty much what I would have, so I’ll only add that it’s lovely to see actual humans in science fiction who are non-binary both in books and on screen as a “normal” occurrence rather than the usual stereotypical alien. That’s real, inclusive rep and not something that just furthers that feeling of otherness.

K B Wagers author photo

Matt Doyle author photo

MD: I have to agree with KB on that. I have nothing against non-binary alien characters at all, but seeing humans represented this way too, and simply just being who they are? That is so wonderful.


DD: K. B. absolutely has a point. I love aliens and robots, so seeing them be non-binary is kind of a mix of

“wow, I wish this was a human character, rather than the idea that non-binary people are something other and non-human”

and

“oh, cool! I love aliens and robots!”

Don’t get me wrong, I do love seeing them, but I just wish there were more representations of non-binary people that were written as honest explorations of gender, as opposed to the idea of isolating non-binary people from binary people.

Dominik Myles Dyer author photo

Blogger’s pop-up
And to you, reader, what does your (non-binary) identity mean? How has it affected or allowed you to explore the infinite worlds of science fiction? How do you think gender and other forms of expression can shape genre?

Read more about Joseph, Erin, Alex, E S Argentum, Matt, Judith, Kiya, Anna, K B Wagers, J Patrick, J S Fields, and Dominik in the next part of this interview, where you will find out: Does science fiction really explore the future? How can it best explore an ever-evolving society? And discover the authors’ favorite experiences in the genre!

TAKE ME TO PART 3: Past, Present, Exploration!

5 thoughts on “Read the Room – Non-Binary Writers on The Future of Science-Fiction. Part 2: Gender and Genre”

  1. Just read Parts I and II. Thank you for putting this together – it’s an amazing discourse. I really appreciated hearing from a collective of voices on these topics ( now on to Part III)! – J

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